Letters in the Limelight: the battle for clean milk

Coll.14.23.6 Clean milk p1Cataloguing the correspondence of zoologist/animal breeder James Cossar Ewart (1851-1933), I have been intrigued by the various ‘life stories’ which emerge from the letters. Periodically I will be including some highlights in a series of posts entitled ‘letters in the limelight.’

Naturally much of Ewart’s correspondence in the collection is concerned with both the commercial and the purely scientific aspects of animal breeding. However, Ewart was also involved periodically with issues surrounding human health and its relation to agricultural industries. This week’s letter is from a man called William Burgess (although his signature is unclear), who writes from Highwood Hill, Mill Hill, London on 11 July 1917. Burgess writes that he has read Ewart’s article ‘The Saving of Child Life’, which appeared in The Nineteenth Century and After (Vol. 82, Part 1, 1917), and which dealt with the issue of infant mortality arising from the consumption of raw (that is, unpasteurised) milk.

From the 1880s onwards it became known that diseases such as bovine tuberculosis could be spread to humans from cattle through milk, and that children were particularly susceptible to infection. Even though pasteurisation had been discovered in the 1860s, the idea was slow in being put into practice, and the battle for clean milk was a lengthy one. It was 1934 before milk pasteurisation and compulsory tuberculin skin testing of cattle was adopted in the UK (in the 1930s, it was thought that around 40% of dairy cows were infected with TB). However, pasteurisation of milk is still not compulsory in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, although it was made compulsory in Scotland in 1983. Ewart was clearly carrying out practical research into methods for milk cleanliness in preparation for his article; another letter in the collection from February of that year is from John Robertson, Medical Officer of Health in the Birmingham Public Health and Housing Department. Robertson recommends that Ewart visit a certain farm near Basingstoke to see a particular method of cleansing in action.

Burgess writes that the advice Ewart’s article contains would be invaluable if it was ‘boiled down’ into a tract and made comprehensible to ‘ordinary people’, both the farmers who produce milk and the parents who purchase it. He writes that he himself has a small dairy and sells milk to his neighbours, so he will ask the district nurse to keep a watch on new babies. If such a popular tract were written however, Burgess advises Ewart against using such overly ‘scientific’ words as ‘pre-natal’, ‘biometricians’ and ‘heredity’!

This letter demonstrates something of the breadth of applications to which Ewart put his animal breeding work. From investigations into hereditary characteristics to the prehistoric origins of domestic animals to improvements in the wool industry, Ewart was always interested in the wider applications of the natural sciences. The relationship between ‘pure’ biological science, its commercial applications and its implications for human health is something which endures to the present day.

James Cossar Ewart medal collection

St Hilaire medal rectoWe’re taking a break from ‘Letters in the Limelight’ this week to take a look at another type of item in the James Cossar Ewart collection. There are 19 medals in the collection, which were awarded to Ewart over the period 1866 (a school medal from Penicuik Free Church School) to 1931 (British Association Centenary commemorative medal). Most of them are for Ewart’s achievements in science and animal breeding: there is a bronze Life Fellow’s Token from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, a gold medal from the Worshipful Company of Woolmen awarded for Ewart’s research into wool and numerous medals from the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland for various animal breeding competitions.

Sometimes the medals complement other items in the collection, as with the medal featured in the picture. This handsome silver medal from the Société Nationale D’Acclimatation de France (National Acclimatisation Society of France) shows the embossed head of the French zoologist Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1805-1861), who founded the Society in 1855. The medallist and engraver was Albert Désiré Barre. A programme which also survives in the collection tells us that Ewart was awarded the medal at the 26th Public Meeting of the Société Nationale D’Acclimatation on the 25 June 1899. The award was given for Ewart’s cross-breeding work with the Burchell’s zebra, which you can read more about here.

Cataloguing medals is not something an archivist gets to do very often, so it was an enjoyable new experience to explore how to catalogue the physical characteristics of objects rather than thinking about the intellectual content and context of documents. The medals are an interesting part of the Ewart collection, as they give a tangible idea of Ewart’s work, achievements and the number of societies and organisations with which he was involved.

Letters in the Limelight: Samuel Henry Butcher (1850-1910)

DSCN2319Cataloguing the correspondence of zoologist/animal breeder James Cossar Ewart (1851-1933), I have been intrigued by the various ‘life stories’ which emerge from the letters. Periodically I will be including some highlights in a series of posts entitled ‘letters in the limelight’ .

While our last ‘Letters in the Limelight’ looked at the life of Peter Henry Buck, a man whose energy was inexhaustible, this week deals poignantly with another of James Cossar Ewart’s correspondents, Samuel Henry Butcher, an Anglo-Irish classical scholar and politician, whose strength had simply run out. Born in Dublin in 1850, Butcher was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and was made a Fellow in 1874. From 1876 to 1882 he was a Fellow of University College Oxford, before taking up the post of professor of Greek at the University of Edinburgh, succeeding John Stuart Blackie. His many publications included, in collaboration with Andrew Lang, a prose translation of Homer’s Odyssey (1879), The Poetics of Aristotle (1902) and Some Aspects of the Greek Genius (1904). Butcher was also influential in areas other than the Classics: education was an important subject to him and one for which he was an advocate, on the Scottish Universities Commission (1889-1896); the University of Edinburgh Court (1891-1901); and the Royal Commission on University Education in Ireland (1901). A. Logan Turner described Butcher as possessing: ‘a singularly attractive grace in bearing and speech, he appealed by sheer contrast to the rather unkempt Scottish undergraduate  as an embodiment of Hellenism, at any rate on its aristocratic side’ (History of the University of Edinburgh, 1883-1933, pp. 229-230). However, despite his achievements, by 1903 Butcher’s health and strength were failing. In April of that year he wrote sadly to Ewart:

Riccall Hall
April 1903

My dear Ewart,
I have intended for some time past to tell you that I have come to the decision that I must resign my Chair. I did not wish this to become public property during this Session, for the leave taking and speech making – to me a great emotional strain – would probably have consumed my remaining strength. But now there is no longer any reason for silence, though my formal resignation to the Court will be deferred for a little while.
I have found, beyond all shade of doubt, that the strain of work had become too great for my strength and my nerve force, which has been greatly reduced during the last year. I have pulled through this Session, but only barely, and often at the week-end, I doubted if I could start afresh on Monday for another week.
I return to Edinburgh tomorrow and must apply myself to business of many kinds, and especially the dismantling of my house, and disposal of many of my goods, eg. books, for which I shall not have room in a smaller house in London. To uproot one’s home of 21 years is a work of much sadness and I cannot trust myself to allow my thoughts to go freely over all that it means. Still I have not lightly made this resolve and know that it is inevitable.
I will write presently and suggest a time which may suit you to look in on me, if you are still at home.
Yours ever,
S.H Butcher
I have a good deal of riding and open air exercise here at my brother’s and am the better for it.
(GB 237 Coll-14/9/9/44)

However, Butcher by no means became inactive after his retirement from the Chair. The remaining five letters from Butcher to Ewart in the collection all postdate Butcher’s retirement and show him to have kept a reasonably active life. One letter from June 1904 has him reporting on a recent lecture tour of America, though he states he found this ‘difficult’ (GB 237 Coll-14/9/10/69), another in September 1905 has him debating with Irish politicians on Irish language and politics (GB 237 Coll-14/9/11/32). Socially, Butcher and Ewart must have been rather close, as he was asked to be trustee of Ewart’s marriage settlement to his third wife, Edith F. Muir. Upon hearing of Ewart’s engagement in September 1904 he remarked: ‘I rejoice to think that the lonely life you have spent for so many years is now to be brightened with human companionship’ (GB 237 Coll-14/9/10/104). After his retirement, Butcher also served as President of the British Academy 1909-1910, was Trustee of the British Museum (1908), and was one of the two MPs for Cambridge University from 1906 until his death, representing the Unionist Party. Samuel Henry Butcher died in London on 29 December 1910 and is interred at the Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh.

Butcher’s lecture notes and papers are held in Edinburgh University Library Special Collections, while his letters to other individuals are held at Oxford, Cambridge, London, St Andrews and the National Library of Scotland.

Letters in the Limelight: Peter Henry Buck (c.1877-1951)

Coll. Peter Henry BuckCataloguing the correspondence of zoologist/animal breeder James Cossar Ewart (1851-1933), I have been intrigued by the various ‘life stories’ which emerge from the letters. Periodically I will be including some highlights in a series of posts entitled ‘letters in the limelight’ .

This week’s letter, from Peter Henry Buck, also known by the Maori name Te Rangi Hiroa, isn’t addressed directly to James Cossar Ewart, but to his wife Edith. Buck’s ancestry alone makes for an interesting story: born around 1877 in New Zealand (he used to claim 1880), he believed for most of his life that his natural mother was Ngarongo ki-tua, wife of his Irish father William Buck. In actual fact, although Ngarongo raised Peter, his birth mother was a near relative who, in accordance with Maori custom, provided William with a child when his marriage to Ngarongo proved childless. Ngarongo instilled in Buck a knowledge and love of the Maori language and lore, although his upbringing was more influenced by the Pakeha (a Maori term for New Zealanders of European decent) side of his family.

Buck attended Otago medical school, and in 1910 gained his MD with the thesis ‘Medicine amongst the Maoris in Ancient and Modern Times’. This subject served him well for his role as medical officer to the Maori, and together with his colleague Maui Pomare they did much to improve the sanitation of Maori settlements and speed a recovery in population. However, Buck was not destined to confine himself purely to medicine for the rest of his life: his love for Maori culture led him into a brief spell in politics as a member of the Native Affairs Committee and briefly, the Executive Council. When war broke out in 1914 he helped to assemble a Maori volunteer contingent: Buck himself saw action at Gallipoli (where he was twice mentioned in dispatches and made DSO), France and Belgium, and ultimately reached the rank of major and second-in-command of the battalion. On returning to New Zealand, Buck become director of the Maori Hygiene Division in the new Department of Health, but at the same time his passion for anthropology continued to flourish. He went on several field trips recording Maori culture and music, visited the Cook Islands and ultimately established himself as the leading authority on Maori material culture. He was a popular lecturer, delivering  ‘The Coming of the Maori’ at the Pan-Pacific Science Congress in Melbourne in August 1923, which is where he met James Cossar Ewart and his wife. Ewart had been invited to the Congress with his colleague Aldred F. Barker (professor of textile industries at the University of Leeds), by the Australian government, as both men were then engaged in improving the sheep and wool industry through applied science. Ewart delivered a lecture at the Congress titled ‘The Ancestry of Domestic Breeds of Sheep’.  In Buck’s letter, dated 23 December 1923, Buck sends his greetings to the Ewarts, remarking that ‘it seems but yesterday when that historic event [i.e the Congress] took place. Do you remember the rush the Professor had to the Museum and the Zoological Gardens on the morning that you sailed from Auckland?’ He goes on to report that the Government has granted him leave to accompany an American scientific expedition into Polynesia, and that the Board of Maori Ethnological Research have established a Maori Improvement Fund of £90,000 which will go to promote practical and higher education among the Maori people.

As well as getting to know the Ewarts at the Congress, a chance meeting with Herbert E. Gregory, director of the Bernice P. Museum in Hawaii, led to Buck being offered a five year research fellowship at the Museum. Henceforth, Buck abandoned medical work to become a professional anthropologist, conducting extensive research in the Polynesian island groups. He was visiting professor of anthropology at Yale University in 1932-1933 and in 1936 he succeeded Gregory as director of the Bishop Museum, finally accepting that his expatriation from his beloved New Zealand would be permanent. Buck remained a hugely popular figure, receiving a string of honours and a New Zealand knighthood in 1949. He died in Honolulu on 01 December 1951 and his ashes were finally brought home to Okoki near Urenui, New Zealand in 1953. Buck’s enormously active life, and the contributions he made to Maori health, wellbeing and an understanding of their culture, belies the self-deprecating remark which he makes to Edith Ewart in his letter concerning ‘the Polynesian inertia that I inherit’.

With acknowledgements to http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3b54/buck-peter-henry

Letters in the Limelight: Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913)

Coll. Alfred Russell WallaceCataloguing the correspondence of zoologist/animal breeder James Cossar Ewart (1851-1933), I have been intrigued by the various ‘life stories’ which emerge from the letters. Periodically I will be including some highlights in a series of posts entitled ‘letters in the limelight’ .

We heard last week about Robert Wallace, Professor of Agriculture and Rural Economy at the University of Edinburgh: in this week’s ‘Letters in the Limelight’ we will hear about explorer and naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (no relation!) who, independently from Charles Darwin, discovered that evolution is governed by natural selection. However, Wallace was a pioneering thinker in a dazzling array of other subjects, including land reform, glaciology, astrobiology, anthropology, socialism and spiritualism. The theory of natural selection came to Wallace in February 1858 when he was suffering from a fever on the remote Indonesian island of Gilolo (now Halmahera). He wrote a detailed essay and sent it to Charles Darwin, who he knew to be interested in evolution. What he didn’t know was that Darwin had been working on the same theory, more or less in secret, for over 20 years. Naturally, Darwin was horrified and asked his friends Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker for advice. Their response was to combine Darwin’s writing on the subject with Wallace’s essay – without Wallace’s knowledge or permission – and the resulting paper appeared in the Linnaean Society’s Journal in August 1858. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species appeared the following year: Wallace, on the other hand, remained in the Malay Archipelago for another four years.

Considering that James Cossar Ewart corresponded with a vast array of individuals prominent in the field of science, it is hardly surprising that a letter from Wallace appears in his collection of correspondence. However, considering that this year marks his centenary, it was a nice to see his signature appear whilst cataloguing. In the letter, written from Dorset on 07 March 1899, Wallace thanks Ewart for sending him his copy of the Penycuik Experiments (the book, published in that year, in which Ewart was able to disprove the theory of telegony by showing that the influence of a first sire could have no influence on the offspring from subsequent sires). However, he considers that Ewart does not emphasize the importance of breeding in telegony tests from pairs of animals of the same colour as well as the same breed. Going on to discuss of the heredity of characteristics, Wallace contrasts the idea of ‘infection’ (as telegony’ was also known) with ‘prenatal impression’, and tells an anecdotal story to illustrate the theory of ‘the influence of mental impressions of the mother on the offspring’. This curious story, Wallace explains, was told to him by a doctor friend of his:

A gamekeeper had a gun accident which led to the amputation of his right fore-arm, at the North Devon Infirmary at Barnstaple of which Dr Budd was Physician. Being anxious to get home he left before the wound was healed, taking instructions for the dressing, which he said his wife would do for him. His wife however was so nervous that she could not do it, so a friend of hers – the recently married wife of a farmer near – offered to come and do it, which she did, till it was quite healed. About 6 months later this farmer’s wife had a son born without any right fore-arm, the stumps exactly resembling that of the gamekeeper.

This, for Wallace was ‘conclusive’ in proving the theory that maternal impressions, particularly those produced by a shock or unpleasant experience, could contribute to causing deformities in offspring. Although of course we now do not hold with this theory, it certainly makes for a good story! One wonders what James Cossar Ewart would have made of it.

In his own lifetime, Wallace was considered to be the most famous scientist alive. His place in the story of evolutionary science has since been eclipsed by Darwin, but in this his centenary year, there are plenty of opportunities to learn more about this extraordinary man, including The Alfred Russel Wallace website: http://wallacefund.info/ and the Natural History Museum: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/science-of-natural-history/wallace/

Dolly, Polly, Molly, Megan and Morag

Dolly and press Murdo MacleodHere on the ‘Towards Dolly’ team we couldn’t let the 05 July go by without celebrating our namesake, who was born on this day in 1996. To most people, Dolly the sheep (1996-2003) needs no introduction. The first mammal to be cloned from adult cells, Dolly was produced at the Roslin Institute, Edinburgh as part of research into producing medicines in the milk of farm animals. The creation of Dolly met with public acclaim and outcry, fuelling the continuing debates surrounding the ethics of cloning. Most people know the basics about Dolly (including, of course, how she acquired her name), but here are a few facts that may surprise:

Dolly’s birth was kept under wraps for seven months

Dolly’s birth was announced to the world in Nature (385, 753-844) on 27 February 1997, when Dolly was already seven months old. (This time delay was so that the research could be properly prepared for presentation.) Although the journal featured ‘Dolly’ on the front cover, the ‘announcement’ was couched in somewhat muted terms: ‘Viable offspring derived from fetal and adult mammalian cells.’ It is only towards the close of the article that the phrase ‘The lamb born after nuclear transfer from a mammary gland cell is, to our knowledge, the first mammal to develop from a cell derived from an adult tissue’ suggests the importance of the event. Even so, few people at Roslin realised what the strength and duration of public interest in Dolly would be.

 Clones pre-Dolly

Of course, there are naturally occurring clones in nature, such as in bacteria. In terms of laboratory cloning, transgenic frogs, mice and cows have been available from the 1980s onwards. The difference with Dolly was that it is so much more difficult to clone from an adult cell. Dolly was the only live lamb to emerge from 277 attempts.

Ever heard of Megan and Morag?

Megan and Morag were identical twin sheep cloned from the same embryo and were the first mammals to have been successfully cloned from differentiated cells. They were born at the Roslin Institute in July 1995. Although Megan and Morag never got the same level of publicity as Dolly was to have, there was a lot more resting on their birth. Crucially, Megan and Morag demonstrated that viable sheep can be produced by nuclear transfer from cells which have been cultured in vitro. The technical breakthrough which produced them made Dolly the sheep possible.

Polly and Molly the sheep

Since Dolly, other sheep have since been cloned from adult cells, as have cats, rabbits, horses, donkeys, pigs, goats and cattle. In 1997, two ewes were born at Roslin which were the first mammals to have been successfully cloned from an adult somatic cell (like Dolly) and to be transgenic at the same time. Scientists used cells into which a new gene had been inserted so that the animals produced a therapeutic protein in their blood. Polly and Molly built on the work that had been done with Dolly to demonstrate the therapeutic potentials of recombitant DNA technology combined with animal cloning.

Read more about Dolly and the work of the Roslin Institute here: http://www.roslin.ed.ac.uk/public-interest/dolly-the-sheep/

Over the next two years, I will be cataloguing the papers of Professor Sir Ian Wilmut (part of the team who cloned Dolly), Professor Grahame Bulfield (former Director of Roslin) and the Roslin Institute itself as part of the second phase of our Wellcome Trust-funded project. I look forward to discovering more about Dolly the sheep as well as the work of the Roslin Institute from its inception in 1993 until the early 21st century.

 Photograph reproduced with kind permission of Murdo Macleod.

Letters in the Limelight: William Herdman and HMS Challenger’s ‘weird deep sea forms’

Coll. William Herdman and ChallengerCataloguing the correspondence of zoologist/animal breeder James Cossar Ewart (1851-1933), I have been intrigued by the various ‘life stories’ which emerge from the letters. Periodically I will be including some highlights in a series of posts entitled ‘letters in the limelight’ .

Last week’s ‘Letters in the Limelight’ focused on Dorothy Thursby-Pelham’s drawings of penguin embryos from Captain Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic; this week, we are staying with the theme of exploration by looking at a letter (dated 25 June 1915) to Ewart from the Edinburgh-born zoologist and oceanographer Sir William Abbott Herdman (1858-1924). Ewart had evidently written to Herdman, who was then Professor of Natural History at the University of Liverpool, requesting some biographical details, to which Herdman modestly replied: ‘what an awful question you ask me! What on earth am I to say? I am the last person who ought to answer it. Will Who’s Who not supply what you want? However I suppose I must help you with any facts I can think of…’ He manages to recover from his reticence sufficiently to provide a brief career history, although he is careful to stress that ‘I had nothing to do of course with the Challenger expedition – was a school-boy at the Edin[burgh] Academy at the time; but I was one of Wyville Thomson’s young men at the ‘Challenger Office’ after he came home.’

Herdman of course refers to the HMS Challenger expedition which visited all of the world’s oceans except the Arctic between  1872 and 1876. The expedition aimed primarily to determine deep sea physical conditions such as temperature and ocean currents, although other forms of investigation, including those of a biological nature, were also carried out. In charge of the scientific staff on board was Charles Wyville Thompson (1830-1882), whom Ewart was to succeed as Professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh. Thompson’s location decided that the ‘Challenger Office’ mentioned by Herdman was set up in Edinburgh in order to analyse the findings of the expedition. The resulting Report on the Scientific Results of the Voyage of HMS Challenger was as monumental as the trip itself, appearing in 50 volumes up until 1895, and much of the scientific data gathered by the Expedition is still in current use.

As Herdman writes to Ewart, he became involved in Wyville Thomson’s ‘Challenger Office’ after graduating from the University of Edinburgh in 1879. He was given the collection of Tunicata (a group of marine organisms) to investigate, a work which he continued after he departed for Liverpool in 1881, and which was to be published as a report in three parts between 1882 and 1888. It was research that he evidently enjoyed: he wrote to Ewart of his ‘luck to have a lot of weird deep sea forms to describe which were of course new to science, so I was able to add some new morphological facts.’ Herdman remained in Liverpool for the rest of his career, maintaining a room in the Department of Zoology far beyond his retirement. He was also a generous benefactor to the University of Liverpool, endowing two chairs and funding a geological laboratory. He established biological stations on Anglesey, in Barrow, Lancashire and on the Isle of Man, where he also helped to found the Manx Museum in Douglas. He received honorary degrees from several universities, was actively involved with the Royal Society and was knighted in 1922. However, Herdman’s personal life was marred with sadness when his only son was killed in the Somme and his wife died suddenly after a two-day illness. Herdman himself suffered from heart disease, and died on the eve of his daughter’s wedding, after attending a family dinner in London. His obituary in Nature (2857, 114, 02 August 1924) states that ‘Sir William Herdman’s life, if it is ever written, will be an inspiration to every man, whether he is interested in science or not.’ In his own life summary which he provided to Ewart however, Herdman retains his characteristic self-deprecation, concluding the letter thus:  ‘Oh – finally, I have probably made quite as many mistakes as any other zoologist who has ranged over a pretty wide field of work.’

Edinburgh University Library Special Collections also holds the HMS Challenger Papers: http://www.archives.lib.ed.ac.uk/catalogue/cs/viewcat.pl?id=GB-237-Coll-46&view=basic